Check it out

Some must-do screenings and self-exams

There’s no denying how popular DIY projects are today. We love to roll up our sleeves and get it done. But what about health screenings that can alert us to possible health problems? Can we tackle some of those ourselves, too?

You’ll need a doctor for most screening tests and exams, of course. But you can do some checks yourself, often with a doctor’s input or recommendation. Examples of both are below. Keep in mind, these are generalized guidelines. You may need screenings earlier, more often or not at all. Ask your doctor what’s right for you. 

At home

  • Step on a scale. Type the result (plus your height) into a body mass index (BMI) calculator, like this one, to see if you’re overweight or obese: morehealth.org/bmi.
  • Measure your waist. Place a tape just above your hipbones, exhale and measure. A waist greater than 40 inches for men or 35 for women boosts type 2 diabetes and heart disease risks. 
  • Check your feet if you have diabetes. Your doctor may have you look for and report any sores or other problems before they become major infections.
  • Check your skin for cancer. Frequent (such as monthly) self-skin checks may help you find cancer early. Changing moles, blemishes or other worrisome-looking areas on your skin should be shown to your doctor.
  • Monitor your blood pressure. Your doctor may have you use a portable monitor at home if, for instance, you have borderline high blood pressure or your readings might be high only at the doctor’s office. 

At a provider’s office

  • Mammograms. From ages 45 to 54, women should have yearly breast cancer screenings, switching to every two years after that.
  • Colonoscopy. Starting at age 45, colonoscopies or other screening tests are recommended for both men and women to help prevent colorectal cancer or find it early.
  • Pap tests. Starting at 21, regular Pap smears help guard against cervical cancer in women.
  • Blood pressure checks. Have your doctor check your blood pressure at least every two years — and more often if you have certain conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes.
  • Cholesterol blood tests. Starting at age 20, have your cholesterol checked every four to six years.

Sources: American Academy of Family Physicians; American Cancer Society; American Heart Association; U.S. National Library of Medicine